How does Manipur produce Olympians? Under-17 FIFA World Cup against the USA. Similarly, talking about the match between India’s women’s team and Belarus. Some players share something in common with other popular athletes. Mirabai Chanu, who recently won a Silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics for India. The commonality is that these athletes come from a tiny Northeastern state of India, Manipur. So how does a state, whose population is just over 25 Lakh, produce so many Olympians? There are three reasons behind this…
How does Manipur produce Olympians?
First, Manipur has a strong sporting culture. Amarjit Singh Kiyam, who captained the Indian U17 team at the FIFA World Cup in 2017. Amarjit Singh Kiyam said Everyone loves sports in Manipur, be it football, hockey, boxing, or wrestling. National footballer Gouramangi Singh says, There are no malls or multiplexes (in Manipur). Sports remains the primary source of entertainment.” That’s why in a friendly match in 2017, 20,000 people came to watch in Imphal, whose population is just over 2.5 Lakhs.
This sporting culture in Manipur is supported by several community clubs to produce their Olympians. Nashoba Thangjam, CEO of the NEROCA football club, says that“he has never seen the community support that the local clubs receive elsewhere in the country.” The community clubs in Manipur aren’t run by professionals, but by volunteers. Volunteering is deeply rooted in Manipur’s culture.
RK Nimai Singh, who was Manipur’s commissioner of sports and youth affairs in 2014, said that “This spirit of volunteering for a cause can be traced to the Manipuri tradition of Lallup”.
Lallup was a tradition that existed when Manipur was a monarchy, where every male between 17 and 60 was encouraged to work for the state, voluntarily, for a certain number of days a year. For time being, this tradition was also a means of labor exploitation.
During the British rule, the Manipuri women began protest movements, known as the Nupi Lan movement, against the forced labor system introduced by the British. After independence, the exploitation ended, but the spirit of volunteering remained.
Journalist Dipanjan Sinha informs that the local communities fund and run the local clubs. And many former athletes support the clubs too– be it for training the youngsters, donating equipment or subsidizing meals for trainees.
Chinglemba Ran, a member of Imphal’s Social Reformers Club says that “Two years ago, a taekwondo player from the locality got a chance to play in a national-level meet in Mumbai but could not afford to go. Thus, the community chipped in to fund his trip.”
This system creates a cycle for sports in Manipur. Chinglemba says that “A footballer from our club, Dharmachandra, now plays for Mumbai FC. Whenever he is in Imphal, he spends time with trainees.”
You may watch it in the Hindi language from Soch by Mohak Mangal
The other reason is that the body type of Manipur’s athletes helps them provide an advantage for certain sports, especially for boxing, weightlifting, and football.
Dangmei Grace, India’s women’s football player, says that“The body structure of Manipur’s sportsperson is quite different from other players.” The key factor of the body structure is the low center of gravity.
Lionel Messi is the most popular example of this. This low center of gravity especially becomes useful in the lower weight categories of weightlifting. That’s why many Manipuri women can lift heavy weights efficiently. Hidilyn Diaz, the Filipino who won a gold medal in Tokyo 2020 in the 55kg category is 4 feet 11 inches tall. Mirabai Chanu has the same height too.
The low center of gravity can also explain the Chinese domination in weight-lifting. Anita Chanu, former champion and now coach, says that the average Manipuri has the right build for weightlifting — “short but with good muscle mass”.
Despite these factors, it’s not easy to succeed in the Olympics. L Ibomcha Singh, who has trained Mary Kom and Dingko Singh, says that sponsorships are still hard to get. This is why players often have to leave the state and join a professional league or institutions like the Army, police force, or railways, to secure a stable income. Politics also creates a challenge.
In 2017, a blockade by the United Naga Council stopped the supply of eggs. Some football players couldn’t meet the dietary protein requirements. Due to this insurgency, many foreign players are also scared to play in Manipur.
Read more: Think About To Change Your Football Uniforms
Naoba Thangjam says that the foreigners read the news about the insurgencies and get scared. RK Nimai Singh, the former commissioner of Manipur’s sports and youth affairs, says that“The sporting culture in Manipur is so strong that even the insurgents won’t interfere with a sporting game.”
Despite these challenges, many athletes from Manipur make India proud at the Olympics.
We are very thankful to Mr. Mohak Mangal for this Article with some good information.